Manny’s Story: “Watch out World”: learning, leading and living

The YMCA is more than a gym… it’s a cause. The Y is a charity dedicated to youth development, healthy living and social responsibility. For Manny, the Y is so much more. The Y is the start of his path to wellness and self-esteem. The Y is where Manny discovered who he is and who he wants to be.

Manny grew up as the youngest of six in a poor family in Tucson. With such a large family, Manny’s mother had to find less expensive foods to feed everyone. For Manny and his siblings, this meant growing up on processed foods that went farther for a smaller price. To Manny this kind of food was the norm. Getting picked on for being overweight was also part of Manny’s reality. When Manny was older, he found himself working at the Y where he began his journey to a healthier lifestyle.

Manny found a job as night manager of member services at the Lohse Family Y and later became a coach in the YMCA Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP). Reflecting on his unhealthy lifestyle that meant carrying added weight, and his experience growing up surrounded by diabetes Manny saw this as an opportunity for himself, both personally and professionally. As a YMCA DPP coach he decided to follow along as a participant in his first class in March of 2011. Manny began his journey to make healthy life-style changes with the other members of his DPP class. At the end of the sixteen week session, Manny had lost over 30 pounds, and developed healthier habits.

Manny continues to be a YMCA DPP coach where he has helped guide many other participants on their own journey to make healthier life-style choices. In his role as a facilitator, Manny sees himself as being both a role-model who continues to work and struggle to maintain his healthier life-style, and a guide who creates a safe environment for the group to hold one another accountable. Working together, the participants of his classes have been able to meet and surpass their goals of losing weight and increasing their physical activity, with many losing their pre-diabetic status.

Manny’s personal journey to health has opened up his world. After 3 years, Manny lost 100 pounds and built up his body with muscle mass. In addition to these physical benefits, Manny has increased his self-esteem and developed a whole new sense of himself. He went from not knowing how to box to being a leader in his boxing classes. He has become a leader at work, where he uses his confidence to inspire the members of his team. Having come so far on his path to wellness, Manny has a renewed belief “that anything is possible. You don’t give up. You don’t quit. You can make subtle changes.” His new approach to life is “Watch out world. If I can handle this, then I can handle anything.”

Manny credits the Y for giving him a new lease on life. “If I hadn’t applied for the Y job, I would still be stuck in a slump. I would continue to hold myself back with self-sabotage.” “Putting myself in the Y environment put me around people who sought physical and mental health.” Being at the Y helped Manny realize that he needed to be in a helping profession. “Meeting awesome people and making connections at the Y” helped Manny see that “he needs to work with people to change the world.”

The Y helped Manny overcome obstacles and unleash his fullest potential. We have an extraordinary opportunity to help more people of Pima County overcome obstacles and unleash their potential, but we must take action today. Your generous support will make it possible. When you give to the YMCA of Southern Arizona, your gift reaches children, families, and seniors in our community. Every gift matters. Everyone has a role to play. Together we achieve more.